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Events in Cape Town – September 28, October 2 & 3

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Would you like to know more about integrating work and faith? Does God belong in the world of business? Should your business be in God’s business… and what, exactly, is God’s business? If there is a miracle in the marketplace, is this an endorsement of that business? Can a business “store up treasure in heaven” or are its returns on earth all that matter?

We will explore these types of questions at three X-Ordinary events. Please join us at:

  1.  Somerset West, this coming Wednesday, September 28. 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. @ Croydon Wine Estate venue.
  2. 13 Beach Road, Melkbosstrand, Sunday evening, October 2nd, 5:30 to 7 pm (Park here… walk to #8 Sunset Mews)
  3. Beulah Lodge, Pinelands, Monday October 3rd, 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Trees to life

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In March 2016 we held an Executive Intensive training in Paarl, a town about an hour from Cape Town. During the Place discussion our hosts, Danny and Garitha de Wit, walked us around the property. As our group came to the front of the house Danny lamented that a large oak tree, hundreds of years old, had to come down since it was diseased.

The Intensive participants decided we should pray for the tree. Some laid hands on it, others knelt, picked up the dirt and spoke life to it. Then we continued the Intensive.

About a week ago we received an email from one of the participants, Emile, who works at the venue/farm.

Hi Everyone,

Trust you are all well! I thought I should share these photos of the tree we prayed for during the rēp intensive – so amazing to see how it had the first leaves of all the trees on the farm a couple of weeks ago.

Tommy also noticed it earlier this week and reminded me of its significance!

Have a great weekend,

Emile

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FIGHTING THE GIANT OF CORRUPTION

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Along my journey, the stories I’ve heard have been truly miraculous. So much that whenever I begin to write about one, it’s been intimidating that I could possibly do it justice. However, today I’m buckling down in Nairobi to tell you one of the most powerful experiences someone has shared on this trip.
I believe God is seeking occasion to inspire many of us in business where we can often be daunted by the size of our problems, unable to see a way out. This is an amazing story of how Campher Serfontein of South Africa, found himself a part of God’s plan to deal with the giant of corruption in Indonesia’s tax revenue system.
The going understanding in this space was that about 50% of taxes went to the government while 50% were “kept”.
Campher had spent much of his career working with SARS, the South African Revenue Service. In late 2006, he was recruited to work for the Australian Indonesian Partnership for Economic Governance. Under previous dictatorship rule, Indonesia’s tax system suffered from systemic corruption and mismanagement. Tax collection was a process not unlike that of biblical days. Tax officials to incentive to take money, meeting with taxpayers with incentives to pay less money. Little got to the government, and most ended up in private pockets.
During Campher’s work there, he noticed that even though his team left after work hours, the taxation officials would have these long meetings that went deep into the night. It occurred to him that it was due to all the ‘additional’ business of the officials, many who were simultaneously working with him to improve governance and graft issues. The going understanding in this space was that about 50% of taxes went to the government while 50% were “kept”.
The first miracle
Campher and his organization worked closely with the Indonesian Taxation Bureau along with international partners such as the World Bank and IMF. One of the ideas his team embarked on was to pilot building a 100-seat call center. By physically separating tax officials from payers and introducing call monitoring systems, all calls could be recorded and made under-the-table deals much more difficult.
However the officials he worked with gave him resources not expecting the project to come through to fruition. When the time came to staff the center with a pre-approved 100 headcount, the officials balked. A lot of resistance came, even though both parties had planned and signed-off on the center’s operations.
“Just get ready for the calls to come in,” he told them.
During this time, Campher prayed over the project, unsure what to do when there was much disincentive to the officials to open up what amounted to an infrastructural solution to deterring corruption. Soon, he heard God say “I want you to anoint the call center.” He wasn’t exactly sure what that would entail, but discussed it with Errol Smith who was previously featured on the X-Ordinary blog. Errol was his prayer partner and also working on a project in Jakarta at the time. “I think you should do it. Use olive oil. In the Bible, they always use olive oil!”.
After some thought, he prayed a prayer of blessing over the oil, and began to touch each of the 100 phones and workstations with the oil. His primarily Muslim colleagues recognized what he was doing as he began to also anoint the doorposts of the call center and asked him about it.
So Campher, who’d all his life been a tax auditor and business man, went on this mysterious errand, hunting for an appropriate olive oil in the grocery store. After some thought, he prayed a prayer of blessing over the oil, and began to touch each of the 100 phones and workstations with the oil. His primarily Muslim colleagues recognized what he was doing as he began to also anoint the doorposts of the call center and asked him about it. “Just get ready for the calls to come in,” he told them.
Within a week, thousands of calls from taxpayers came in, eager to try out the new system. The phones without staff just kept ringing and ringing until there was no choice but for the senior tax directors to give them the 100 staff needed to man the phones. And that’s how Indonesia got its first tax call center up and running.
The second miracle
The larger issue still loomed in the background of all the progress Campher, the Taxation Bureau and international partners were making. While there was a younger generation of tax officials with an honest desire to clean up and evolve the Bureau’s operations, much of the leadership was still from the old regime.
Campher found himself in the precarious position of serving clients who retained his firm’s services to fight corruption, when many of the individuals themselves were the largest offenders. Any confrontation or activity was not only potentially personally dangerous, it would also be likely useless
One day, Campher came across a secret document showing the personal finances of the senior management within the Taxation Bureau, and there was no question that the top guys were living a high life far beyond their salaries. The document showed millions of dollars were sitting in bank accounts of the directors that Campher wasn’t supposed to know about. At the same time, these were technically also his clients. Campher found himself in the precarious position of serving clients who retained his firm’s services to fight corruption, when many of the individuals themselves were the largest offenders. Any confrontation or activity was not only potentially personally dangerous, it would also be likely useless as the management could simply fire the firm if it got too close to ‘solving’ corruption problems too close to home.
He did not tell them any information, about any of the issues, said nothing good or bad. Just simply, “Pray for the top 30.”
Campher brought the issue before the Lord in prayer, unable to see a way out. “God, what do you want to do here?” Within 48 hours, he received a call from a pastor who was interested in having Campher speak to his group of 300 pastors about a tax amnesty initiative. The group also ran a mobile prayer network where a SMS message could instantly reach 4 million Christians who would pray for that topic. The call was received late in the week, and in the next week, Campher went to share with the pastors. He knew this opportunity was opened up by God. At the end of his presentation, he asked the 300 pastors to simply pray for the top 30 guys in the Indonesian Tax Bureau. He did not tell them any information, about any of the issues, said nothing good or bad. Just simply, “Pray for the top 30.” The group later sent out the same message out to the mobile network of 4 million.
After this, Campher went on a holiday break back in South Africa. Upon his return, a lower level management official was caught collecting money to pay off the police. Though the case was small, this was the first case of tax corruption in Indonesia ever to reach the media. The public was very upset by the story and the media went on a larger blitz, hunting the entrenched directors high up in the hierarchy. Soon reporters began taking pictures of all the houses, cars and yachts the directors of the bureau owned, and openly questioned how they were able to live such luxurious lifestyles. The official who was caught eventually was indicted, and became the first tax corruption case to be successfully won.
What had been decades of entrenched corruption, God used a man who was “just a tax guy”, to help take down a Goliath issue of injustice in Indonesia.
Even more, under the immense media scrutiny, the top directors began to take steps to remove themselves from the limelight. Over the course of the next few months, most of the biggest culprits the secret document identified quietly exited the Bureau. Some retired or quit, others had themselves assigned to other places in government and industry. Eventually, the most problematic leadership entrenched in the Bureau had cleared themselves out and replaced by the younger, law-abiding generation of officials.
Conclusion
I spent many weeks daunted by how to write this story. All I can say is that it is a story where embellished writing can only take away the power of its impact. It is a story that tells itself. And it begs the question, what are the problems we face today in our businesses that we can bring before God to solve? And what are the problems in God’s business, that He is asking us today to pray and help Him solve?
What had been decades of entrenched corruption, God used a man who was “just a tax guy”, to help take down a Goliath issue of injustice in Indonesia.
We call that, X-Ordinary.